Jim Gracey sees a dream come together with the re-opening of the Tollymore mountain sports centre, near Newcastle, as the sparkling jewel in Sport NI crown
The keys to the Kingdom of Mourne are about to open on a magnificent new mountain sports mecca.
A £5million rebuild has completely transformed the famous old Tollymore National Outdoor Centre, gateway to the Mournes for many thousands of mountain sports enthusiasts down the years.
Gone is the former wooden cabin base camp and in its place has arisen the great outdoors equivalent of a 5-star hotel that promises to become the jewel in the crown of Sport Northern Ireland, who conceived the project and secured substantial funding in the toughest of financial times.
Centre manager Trevor Fisher, himself an experienced climber and sailor, took the Belfast Telegraph on a guided tour and the impression was one of gold in those hills.
“We are extremely proud and delighted to see the plan come together and construction finally complete, its fantastic,” said Trevor.
“The centre will further open up the potential of the Mournes for sport and leisure activities, from the most serious and committed, to school and work groups and weekend hill walkers.
“We can now provide an even greater range of activities, tuition and courses for larger numbers. It's an exciting development that quite literally takes Tollymore to a whole new level.”
Already open for business, ahead of the official unveiling on Wednesday week, the local economy can stand by for further spin-offs.
With residential accommodation for up to 40 guests, the ultra-modern facility is already paying its way with bookings coming in from all parts.
Built by Annalong company Glasgiven Contracts, with local labour and local materials, the building is also a model of eco-friendly design.
Set in the foothills of the Mournes, near Bryansford, the original concept of the futuristic building, entirely in keeping with its forest and peak surroundings, came from architect Dawson Stelfox, the first Northern Ireland climber to conquer Everest.
“It's exactly as Dawson envisaged,” Trevor explained. “Imposing but unintrusive with incredible views, rugged but comfortable with particular attention paid to the local ecology and environment.
“The centre has been designed for low-energy use, not too cold in winter, not too hot in summer.
“Granite from old ruins round about was used in the construction, rainwater is recycled, heat comes from solar energy, and the boilers are powered by wood pellets from the forests.”
Additional jobs have also been created with three full-time instructors, six trainee instructors and no fewer than 60 part-time experts on call.
The 20 on-site operational staff also includes a full-time chef.
“Everything is geared to providing the best facilities and direction possible to enjoy our greatest natural asset; the Mournes,” asserts Trevor.
“We can now cater and accommodate for every conceivable outdoor interest at Tollymore. The centre is a credit to those who designed and built it and to Sport NI for their vision and investment.
“Our doors are now open and we look forward to a new era of sport and leisure activity for all, here in the Mournes.”